Meetings & Conventions: Say 'Om' February 1998
Wellness programs put physical and spiritual well-being on
BY LISA GRIMALDIF
iscal fitness is usually the first goal any
company aims to achieve. But for LJH Global Investors, ensuring its
employees' physical and emotional well-being shared top billing
with improving its financial health during the firm's strategic
"The president wanted the meeting to address the whole picture:
planning the company's direction for the new year, as well as the
staff's health and wellness and ability to work as a team," says
Sherri Zelinski, the company's marketing assistant, who helped
organize the meeting.
So last December, this usually buttoned-down crowd traded their
Naples, Fla., office for a desert spa (Canyon Ranch in Tucson,
Ariz.) and their business suits for sweat suits. For four days, the
12-person staff indulged in body wraps, fango masks and manicures;
groaned and sweated together during aerobics classes and morning
hikes; and learned to implement their own personal fitness and
wellness goals at home, amidst the stresses of their day-to-day
How did they feel after four days of this regimen? "Inspired,"
says Zelinski. "We not only mapped out where we wanted the company
to go in the future, but where we wanted to go healthwise as
Employees were so inspired that upon their return home they
joined local gyms and continued healthful eating habits. This
newfound fitness awareness, Zelinski says, was the company's
LJH is one of many firms now incorporating wellness into the
meeting agenda, according to Stephanie Matolyak, director of new
business development for Spa-Finders, a spa travel and meeting
agency based in New York City. In fact, she says, meetings are
among the fastest-growing segments of the spa business. While some
companies buy into the spa meeting concept for the sake of
individual fulfillment, others realize that some typical wellness
activities foster team building to boot. The LJH staff, for
example, started several mornings with aerobics and hikes in the
desert surrounding the property.
Says Sherri Zelinski, "At first, a few people who were really
out of shape were dreading doing activities in front of their
colleagues." But after a day or two of everyone getting used to
seeing each other in sweats and straight-from-the-shower wet hair,
their self-consciousness was cast aside.
"By the end of the meeting, they were the ones who were most
gung-ho about the group activities."Translating spa
Don't know the difference
between a fango treatment and a mud bath? Actually, they're the
same thing -- it just sounds more appealing with an Italian name
(fango means mud). Fancy spa terminology can be just as
intimidating to spa regulars as it is to uninitiated, first-time
attendees. Following are definitions of the more common spa terms
and treatments, adapted from a glossary of terms produced by New
York City-based Spa-Finders, a spa travel and meeting
ACUPRESSURE: Ancient Chinese massage
technique used to restore the unrestricted flow of energy by
stimulating specific pressure points on the body.
AROMATHERAPY: Treatments such as
massage, facials, body wraps or hydro baths, with the application
of fragrant essential oils. Different oils are used to induce
various therapeutic benefits.
AYURVEDA (pronounced eye-or-VAY-da):
Ancient system of traditional folk medicine from India, using a
large variety of techniques incorporating nutrition, herbal
medicine, aromatherapy, massage, meditation, etc., to restore the
organism to perfect balance.
EXFOLIATION: Skin treatment where the
upper layer of dead skin cells is sloughed off. Among the
techniques: loofah (sponge) rub and salt scrub or glow, done with
coarse sea salt.
FANGO: Mud, typically with high-mineral
content. It's often combined with oil or water and applied over the
body to detoxify, soothe muscles, open pores, and stimulate
GOMMAGE: Cleansing, rehydrating
treatment using creams, which are applied in long massage-type
HERBAL WRAP: Strips of cloth soaked in a
heated herbal solution are wrapped around the body, followed by a
period of rest, to eliminate toxins and impurities.
HYDROTHERAPY: Water therapy in the forms
of underwater jet massage, showers, jet sprays or mineral
LYMPH DRAINAGE:Therapeutic massage using
a gentle pumping technique to drain away pockets of water retention
and trapped toxins.
REFLEXOLOGY: Ancient Chinese technique
using pressure-point massage to the feet, hands and ears to restore
energy flow to the body.
SHIATSU: Japanese acupressure massage
technique in which pressure is applied to specific points on the
body to stimulate and unblock meridians (pathways in the body
through which life energy flows).
SPORTS MASSAGE: Deep tissue massage,
directed specifically at muscles used in athletic
SWEDISH MASSAGE: Classical European
massage technique of gentle manipulation of the muscles with the
use of massage oils. Used to improve circulation, ease muscle aches
and tension, improve flexibility and foster relaxation.
THALASSOTHERAPY: Therapeutic sea-based
treatments, including algae wraps and seawater hydrotherapy. *
Who needs a spa?
Not every group is a candidate for an all-encompassing,
industrial-strength program like LJH's Canyon Ranch meeting. The
degree to which wellness fits into a program depends a lot on
attendees' comfort level.
Martin Turner, a U.K.-based planner who specializes in health
and wellness meetings, suggests that planners determine the
meeting's wellness objectives. "Do you want to hold a regular
meeting, with the wellness concept introduced through a couple of
health breaks, a program with a few spa treatments tacked on as a
reward for attendees, or a comprehensive program where they'll
learn how wellness and stress management fit into the overall
picture [of their lives]?"
The first type -- the real introductory program -- can be staged
at just about any venue simply by adding a light exercise break and
wellness speakers to the agenda. (If exercise is involved, be sure
to inform attendees to bring proper attire.)
For example, Turner hired Marcus Irwin, an international fitness
personality, to speak at a three-day conference held at Darling
Harbor, a large convention/leisure complex in Sydney, Australia.
During the morning and afternoon breaks, Irwin discussed a basic
fitness or health topic for 15 minutes; for the next 15 minutes he
engaged attendees in some light physical activity, such as
stretching, mild aerobics and relaxation techniques.
"The group thought it was brilliant," says Turner. "But that had
a lot to do with Irwin's enthusiasm and personality, so choose
Among places to find such presenters are speaker bureaus that
specialize in sports/fitness personalities, recommendations from
fitness centers and, the spa director of the property.
If the group is filled with first-timers who are spa-shy,
Spa-Finders' Stephanie Matolyak recommends selecting a spa resort
-- a resort with spa facilities -- where attendees have the
opportunity to sample one or two spa treatments during the course
of the meeting. Properties such as the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel
& Spa on Maui and PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach
Gardens, Fla., fit into this category.
A destination spa -- such as the Canyon Ranch (which also has a
property in Lennox, Mass.) or Miraval, Life in Balance, in Tucson,
Ariz. -- is more geared for the soup-to-nuts wellness meeting,
offering such extras as advanced fitness classes and health
For meetings where wellness is incorporated but not the major
focus, a common challenge for planners is getting spa novices to
loosen up about the whole experience. "A lot of attendees --
especially men -- have never had a facial, let alone stepped in a
spa. They think the whole concept is 'sissy,'" says Martin
Planners can ease the way for first-timers by making sure the
spa staff and therapists understand your people don't know an
herbal wrap from a sandwich wrap. Many spa properties also have
introductory brochures that explain the basics of the spa
experience, such as suggested dress codes and an explanation of
procedures and treatments that can be sent to attendees prior to
the meeting or handed out during registration or check-in.
Once they get that initial treatment, most first-timers are
hooked. A client of Sandy Cutrone, president of European
Connection, a planning firm based in Roslyn Heights, N.Y.,
initially thought the idea of spa treatments at a meeting was
ridiculous. But now, five years later, this mostly male
pharmaceutical group "considers massages a highlight of the
meetings; they only want to meet at properties with spas."Good vibes and other
How can you tell if a spa
has the perfect karma for your group? Following are some tips from
MEET THE SPA DIRECTOR. "The spa director
is the equivalent of a convention services manager at the
facility," says Wayne Smith, executive director of the
International Spa and Fitness Association (known as ISPA), based in
Alexandria, Va. "He should show you around and explain it all to
you, as if you were a first-time spa visitor."
TRUST FIRST IMPRESSIONS. "I can pretty
much size up the condition of the spa from the reception area,"
says U.K.-based health meeting consultant Martin Turner. "If the
area is well-kept and clean and the receptionist is friendly, it
usually bodes well for the rest of the facility." Among the other
external features to determine: Are the changing facilities and
showers clean? Are the treatment rooms clean? What's the condition
of the steam room, sauna, exercise facilities and
COUNT TREATMENT ROOMS. Some facilities
say they can accommodate a certain number of treatments per hour;
be sure they have the physical room to support the claim. "It's
also a good idea to check with the director on the general
availability of treatments -- what's the level of leisure guest
use, and does the spa offer local memberships (many spas,
particularly in urban areas, have local clients)," says ISPA's
BE A GUINEA PIG. "The best way for you
to determine the professionalism of staff is to try at least one
treatment yourself," says Turner. Sure it's a tough job, but
someone's got to do it. (Adds Roslyn Heights, N.Y.-based
independent planner Sandy Cutrone, "It also doesn't hurt to take
the decision-maker along to sample the goods.") At the same time,
you'll be able to tell if the rooms are soundproof. There's nothing
quite like a loud "ouch" from the person being pummeled by the
masseuse in the next room to snap you out of your
CONSIDER THE FLESH FACTOR. Some spas are
more conservative than others. For instance, are there separate
steam rooms and saunas for men and women? What's the dress code?
Says Turner, "A lot of people don't feel comfortable walking around
in a towel, particularly if they're with co-workers." If that's the
case, he advises, find a place that's more in tune with your
attendees' attitudes. The same goes for the treatments: Most places
"drape" the portion of the body that's not being worked on, so
guests are not totally exposed. But some places don't think twice
about working on buck-naked bods. Make sure the place you pick is
in tune with your attendees' levels of modesty.
CHECK FOR CERTIFICATION. Most spas and
spa resorts are members of ISPA, which has set standards and
practices to which its members must adhere. "We follow up if a
complaint is registered against a place," says Smith. Likewise, the
American Massage Therapy Association is the largest organization
that provides certification to professionals in the United States.
ISPA's Smith adds, "Some states, like Florida and California, are
really tough and require that massage therapists pass state
certification requirements in order to practice, while some others
don't require certification at all." * L.G.
Add "ahhh" time
If you do choose a venue with a spa, be sure to factor in enough
time for attendees to enjoy the added benefits. While group
activities are easily arranged around meeting times, individual
treatments and sessions are harder to schedule.
Schedule meeting agenda items first. Once you know the
off-times, ask the spa director to block these periods of time for
your group (scheduling will also depend on the number of treatment
rooms available). Don't know how many will want shiatsu? Do a
little preliminary work.
"We recommend that for groups of 100 or more the attendees
select treatments before the meeting begins," says Gordon Tareta,
director of the Solace Spa at Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta,
Canada. "This way, if we know that most people want facials, we can
hire extra therapists to accommodate the group."
Another option that works well with small groups is to arrange
all spa treatments on day one of the program, as Martin Turner did
for one small group of Australian VIPs. "After a long flight, the
massage, facial, pedicure and Jacuzzi was just the medicine to set
the 'L.A.' tone and ensure that the guests were relaxed and
refreshed before the meeting," he says.Bargaining
When booking a meeting at
a spa resort, try to use a property that owns and manages the spa
as well," recommends Martin Turner, a U.K.-based planner who
specializes in wellness meetings. "You'll have much more leverage
in your price negotiations.
"If the price listed is $90 per hour for a massage," he
says, "the facility, which is also managing the spa, is probably
paying the therapists $20 or $30 per hour. The spa may forfeit some
of their profit if they know you'll be spending x amount on rooms,
food and beverage, etc." * L.G.
For the total well-being meeting, attendees don't just listen to
speakers and surrender themselves to masseuses and other spa
treatment therapists. Today, says Spa-Finders' Matolyak, attendees
are getting into activities like group lessons in yoga or tai chi
(a Chinese martial art form that combines mental concentration,
slow breathing and graceful dancelike movements).
Many spas now offer spiritual counseling or activities in
addition to traditional programs. But Turner suggests reserving the
"higher plane" stuff for attendees to choose programs based on
individual comfort. Group activities, he suggests, should be on a
more introductory level to spiritual and New Age concepts.
Mandating such activities, he says, would be "too much like
forcing religion on someone."
Other New Age offerings are treatments based on Ayurveda (see
"Translating Spa Speak" on page 78) and crystal therapy.
Moderation, not starvation
Muscles and mind-set aren't the only areas in which a meeting
can influence attendees' well-being. Food and beverage should
definitely tie in to the healthy theme, but the key, experts say,
is to not go overboard.
"Well-being means being balanced; health is not a religion, it's
a way of life," notes Turner. "Allow for the occasional indulgence.
Offer a choice -- for meals, receptions and breaks -- of both
healthful and sinful food."
That's if you have a choice. Some destination spas are strict in
their offerings and allow no exceptions to their policy, so pore
over menus before selecting a venue. Sandy Cutrone once nixed a
beautiful spa in Italy she was inspecting for a client because the
only food they served tasted like "green toothpaste." But don't
equate spa cuisine with rabbit food. Usually, it's every bit as
palate-pleasing as traditional, calorie-laden fare.
Whether to serve alcohol is another matter. At Canyon Ranch, for
instance, alcohol isn't offered in the dining room or guest areas.
But one night, LJH was able to hold a private cocktail reception on
the property (the group had to provide its own liquor).
Most resort spas have virtually no ban on booze; in those cases,
it's up to the planner to determine whether alcohol is to be part
of the wellness meeting. Martin Turner recommends following normal
meeting/alcohol guidelines: Keep it "dry" during the day, serving
alcoholic beverages only during evening functions and meals.
Caffeine also is often considered a health no-no. "If you're
giving attendees choices for breakfast and lunch, you can bet some
will indulge in the fatty foods," Turner says. "They're going to
need plenty of caffeine during the breaks to make it through the
meeting sessions, so be realistic and offer coffee and tea, along
with the juices and herbal teas." *Spa
Following are several
organizations to help you plan a spa and/or wellness
INTERNATIONAL SPA AND FITNESS
Provides names and information about its 834 member spas.
Fax: (703) 838-2936
Matches groups with spa facilities that meet their needs and
meeting budgets, at no fee.
New York, N.Y.
Fax: (212) 924-7240
AMERICAN MASSAGE THERAPY ASSOCIATION
Offers references of qualified therapists for those who want to
set up massage treatments at facilities other than spas.
Fax: (847) 864-1178
www.amtamassage.org * L.G.
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